Karmali discusses how philanthropy can use networks for social good

March 2, 2018

Faizal Karmali, most recently Associate Director of Network Engagement and Bellagio Programs at the Rockefeller Foundation, shared his years of insights on how philanthropy can leverage networks to scale impact.

The Feb. 13 discussion, hosted by the USC Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, with more than two dozen Los Angeles-based foundation and corporate social responsibility executives touched on how philanthropy’s approach to problem solving has evolved over the years, moving from a more individualistic pursuit to one that is increasingly collaborative, cross-sectoral and network-focused.

“More and more foundations are thinking about how to attack the root cause of problems rather than just alleviating symptoms,” Karmali said. Network approaches are one way that foundations make a bigger difference in terms of scale: reaching more people, in more places, by mobilizing more resources than ever before with lasting impact over time.

Network approaches try to address complex social problems holistically by engaging a set of actors who can work relatively autonomously, in concert with one another, to pursue individual and collective goals. Using such an approach allows philanthropy to pursue broader and often more ambitious goals than they otherwise could, helps to diversify risk, promote resiliency, and enables innovations and new ways of thinking and approaching public problems.

For foundations interested in using network approaches, Karmali says funders must first look at themselves and ask tough questions about what kind of funder they are and what kind they aspire to be. Funders can then choose what type of role they want to play in a network – from a more “behind the scenes” actor, to one that frequently rolls up its sleeves to make connections and help push the work along. But, Karmali warns, foundations must be mindful of how their presence shapes and influences how the network operates.

To this end, Karmali encourages foundations to be deliberate and potentially start small, as a network participant, allowing others to take the lead. This can help test a foundation’s capacity and true ability to engage in a networked manner. He also says foundations need to be honest with themselves about how they engage in problem-solving ecosystems and to be aware of what it takes to take have a network mindset.”


The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy promotes more effective philanthropy and strengthens the nonprofit sector through research that informs philanthropic decision-making and public policy to advance community problem solving. The Center is a part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, which works to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad.

For more information:
Please contact Nicholas Williams, Associate Director, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy at nicholas.williams@price.usc.edu or (213) 740-8557.